What Words Would You Love to Ditch?

  1. Rigor: I know that it often means hard work or deeper thinking. However, in many cases, rigor has become a word associated with absurd standards or higher scores. If I'm referring to critical thinking, I'd rather use the term "deep" or "critical thinking." 
  2. Data-Driven: I'm not opposed to the use of data. However, I'd rather use the term "data informed" or better yet, "information." Often data is viewed as culturally and socially neutral. It's viewed as something measurable; a series of facts that can't be disproved. Information is more flexible. 
  3. Achievement: I'm tired of calling test scores "achievement." Just call them test scores. I'd rather save the term "achievement" for something like a thoughtful blog post or a cool Socratic Seminar or a project. 
  4. Common Assessment: It's not a common assessment unless it's truly common and democratic. If the timing, the standards, the curriculum map and the format are chosen top-down, there's nothing democratic about it. 
  5. SPED Students: I know that I sound picky here, but there's a cost to using a label to define a kid. It's the difference between saying, "a diabetic" or "a woman with diabetes" (something Michael Doyle once brought up). And although SPED isn't necessarily pejorative, I remember kids in the playground using it that way when I was a younger. 
  6. Intervention: Can we find a better word for offering kids help? This word conjures up images of a family sitting together with someone to talk about an addiction. 
What are some other education phrases / words that grate on your nerves?

John Spencer

Professor. Maker. Speaker.
I want to see schools unleash the creative potential in all teachers to transform classrooms into bastions of creativity and wonder. Read more →
Email me at john@educationrethink.com for speaking inquiries on design thinking and creativity.


  1. Professional development - is there development for teachers that isn't professional?
    Technology - this word is misused to only apply to technologies that are considered trendy.

    1. I'm with you on "professional development." Nice choice.

  2. Culture: Newspeak for brainwashing the new staff

    Collaborative Grading: when grading doesn't take enough of your after-hours hours

    Ice Breakers: I like my ice in cubes and my time valued.

    Warm Ups: You assume I can't think without a jump start!

    Sharing Out: Can't we just share? Is sharing out different from just sharing?

    Kiddo: They are students, pupils, children, or even kids; why add a syllable?

    (Totally agree with the SPED; does someone think this label makes a slower student sound fast?)

    1. I'm with you on Ice Breakers. I also don't like Parking Lot or Grass Catcher. Not sure why, though.

  3. Digital natives - they are children!
    21st Century learning- the people who use this really have no idea what they mean
    Interrogating data- put away the bright lights and the finger nail extractors
    Accelerated Achievement -for the "SPED kids" - sometimes they are tortoises and sometimes hares -what this really means is "put the pressure on to make more than a year's gain in a year to bring them up to some supposed standard that may not actually be achievable because this child is working as damned hard as they can and overcoming great obstacles already in order to get there.
    I hate the labels such as SPED when the the condition overrides the person.

    1. I'm with you on Accelerated Achievement. Really? We're going to take the students who learn the slowest and jam-pack them with skills so that they catch up?

  4. A couple of thoughts from Australia:
    Quality Teacher - the way it's used here frequently seems to imply that only a few teachers are any good.
    Accountability - as in "Schools need to be made accountable" -again, implying that we're not. In fact, I think we are under more scrutiny than most organisations. Certainly more than the politicians who use that phrase.
    21st Century Learning - I feel embarrassed to say this since we've been in the 21st Century for several years now.

    1. I hate the term "accountability." What they really mean is a witch hunt in many cases or a set of punitive measures for things outside of our control.

  5. Active reading: My sophomores, who just began yesterday, revealed their fear of it. The confessed that it makes them hate to read. I'm with them. But I did remind them that the only way to read is actively. That doesn't mean, though, that I have to SEE their thinking about their reading through text markings that they mostly make to please the teacher. I told them my goal is to make them not hate reading. That starts with eliminating the fear of being graded on how well they can mark up a text.

    1. I hate that term, too, especially when actively reading often means just paying attention. Why add layers to the text? Why not let them read?

  6. Best Practice: It sounds so "hoity-toity". I wish there was a better way of putting it. Plus, I think there are usually more than one "best" ways. So, it should be plural, whatever the term is.

    1. Yep, that drives me nuts, too. Any practice works if done in the right way in the right context.

  7. Killing these kids' spirits is worse than a fairy dying, to me.


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